Going to Court in Canada

Natalie Fraser for The Lawyers Weekly

What does jury duty in Canada involve?

The jury trial - a trial by one's peers - represents a cornerstone of the Canadian justice system. This requires the selection of a jury of twelve people from the community.

Each province in Canada determines its own method by which citizens are selected for potential jury duty, often a random selection of names from voters' lists. Jurors must have Canadian citizenship and residency in the province in which the court is located, and must have reached the age of nineteen years. Special circumstances can allow potential Canadian jurors to be exempted from jury duty, such as ill health, student status or limited ability to understand the language.

Potential jurors form a 'jury panel.' Members of the panel attend at court in Canada on a designated day. The clerk of the court selects names at random from a box or drum containing the names of the jury panel. Either the prosecutor or the lawyer for the accused may refuse to accept the juror whose name has been drawn. If both accept the juror, he or she becomes part of the jury for an upcoming trial.

During the trial, jurors must make up their minds about the truth of the testimony given at trial. Once both sides of the court case have called their witnesses and presented arguments, and the judge has instructed the jury on the relevant law, the jury meets in a room and makes its decision.

All jurors must agree on the verdict. If they can't agree, the judge may discharge them and order the selection of a new jury. After the trial, jurors cannot tell anyone about the discussions that took place in reaching the verdict.

Testifying in Canadian Court

People having information relevant to a case being tried in court may be called on to give evidence during the trial. They may have seen an offence happen or have a document that will shed light on contested issues. People called upon by subpoena (see subpoena section) to testify have a legal obligation to do so.

"Expert witnesses" also give testimony in Canadian court. Their knowledge about a particular topic can assist the court in understanding an issue being argued within the trial.

Witnesses give evidence under oath or by affirmation. This means that they swear to tell the truth, either on the basis of religion or solemn belief. Witnesses must answer all questions they are asked, unless the judge declares otherwise.

Subpoenas in Canada

A Canadian subpoena is a judicial order requiring a person to appear in court at a certain place and time in order to give evidence in a court proceeding. The person receiving the subpoena may have to take the stand and testify personally, or may be required to produce documents related to the court proceeding that are in his or her possession.

Judges, justices of the peace or in some circumstances, Canadian court clerks may issue subpoenas. Judges or justices of the peace must believe that the person receiving the subpoena can provide the court with 'material evidence'. This means that the evidence is required in order to make a determination in a court proceeding, or relates directly to the issues in dispute.

The witness usually receives the subpoena personally from a court officer. But it can also be left at the witness's home with anyone appearing to be at least sixteen years old. If the witness does not attend at court as required by the subpoena, the court may issue a warrant for his or her arrest.

If a witness shows up in court but refuses to testify, the presiding judge may order that the witness be jailed for contempt of court.

Natalie Fraser practised law in Whitby, Ontario for seventeen years and is now a freelance legal writer. She often writes for The Lawyers Weekly.

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